I moved to Broomfield, Colorado, on New Year day of 2013. Growing up in Vietnam, I remember vividly, during the raining season, it rained every freaking day, which produced frequent floods in the city. In my younger age, 3 feet of water in our house was super cool, sort of like having an indoor swimming pool.
Living in Boulder for several months in the summer, at 10 a.m. on the first Monday of each month, Boulder tests its emergency warning system –deafening loud sirens and booming voice over the loud speakers chillingly announcing, “THIS IS A WARNING SYSTEM TEST.”
The “100 Year Flood” was part of the local lexicon, one of those legendary things that can’t really happen. On September 12 – 15, when the proverbial “100 Year Flood” actually happened, it was a shocker. For one thing, no one ever thought big flood would happen in September, when summer monsoon storms typically taper off and thunderstorm producing convection is weak. The year, the monsoon was stubborn, and a confluence of static weather systems and particularly abundant moisture produced a cataclysm that seemed to be “biblical”.
The hard rain started on September 11th, and that night I was lying in bed listening as the skies opened up with deluge. Thunder and lightning sent me scurrying for cover. Then the sirens started. That night alone it rained 7”, exceeding the record of 5.5” for the entire month of September. It did not stop. By the time the weather system finally moved out, some stations had recorded 17” of precipitation.
The next morning, on my way to work, I had to take a detour due to collapsed bridges. After making it to work safely, which is in Boulder, in less than an hour, our office announced “Closed” due to weather disaster. Instead of heading home, my curiosity got better of me, and I decided to stay in Boulder to see “what was up.” It was stunning to see how every usually tiny trickle had turned into a rushing cascade. The roads were washed out everywhere, and huge new drainage channels had been created literally overnight. Foot bridges over several little creeks had completely disappeared. I foolishly decided to check out Boulder Creek trail, one of my favorites. There was a crossing part over the creek, normally you simply step over a little trickle of water, this time was increasingly life-threatening.
Two days later, there was a break in the rain, and I’d been feeling all cooped up. By now, I saw pictures and video footage on the news – the road washouts and the towns of Lyons and Estes Park underwater. I decided to sneak up on Mt. Sanitas, wasn't sure if I could get on the hills or how far I could go. On my way there, I wasn't prepared for the devastation I found: roads were completely destroyed, houses and cars were in the raging creek. Military helicopters buzzed overhead, assessing the situation. Million dollar homes were parched undamaged up on the hillsides, but they might be worthless due to the inaccessible roads.
Boulder rain finally stopped around 9:00 am on September 16th. The sun timidly poked through the clouds as I walked along city streets, many of which were still in running water. There was mud everywhere, which quickly dried and turned to dust, churned up by traffic. Cops stopped to removed barricades from recently flooded areas, while yellow police-tape blocked off the most damaged areas. Piles of soaked carpet, insulation and furniture lined the sidewalks. In the wake of Boulder’s biggest flood in recorded history, some people lost their homes, tragically some even lost their lives, others are dealing with little more than flooded basements, and some of us very lucky ones are just wondering where we’re going to hike tomorrow.